Marketing Insights for Tech Creators

How to Write an Onboarding Email Sequence That Turns Free Trials into Paying Subscriptions

It can take significant effort to get people to visit your landing page. Once there, you still have to entice them to purchase or subscribe to your product. The best SaaS companies generally realize a conversion rate of between 2% and 3%.

Offering a free trial of your product is one way to improve on that statistic; but free trials don’t always deliver hoped-for results.

The Problem In a Nutshell

What’s the problem?

People sign up for your free trial. That’s good news.

Only 15-20% of them will ever become paying customers.

Can you improve on that?

Yes, if you can keep those people engaged throughout the trial.

A Probable Cause

You cast a lure in the water to catch a fish. Some lures have to be jiggled a bit to get a fish interested and engaged. Otherwise, nothing happens.

It’s the same way with a free trial. You just can’t offer it and forget about it. You have to do some “jiggling” occasionally to get and keep people engaged.

The Solution

Send those who sign up emails they can’t wait to open. Some users simply need a little reminder, while others require more information. Carefully-worded emails can do both.

These emails are called onboarding emails and you should plan on sending 4 to 6 of them over the course of a free trial.

We’ve put together 7 highly effective tactics you can use in your onboarding email campaign. You can put all 7 of these tactics to use, or only those you believe will suit you best.

7 Tips and Tactics for Writing an Onboarding Email Sequence That Turns Your Free Trial Users into Paying Customers

#1 Make Them Feel Like It’s a Personal Email

Lots of emails start with “Hi Joe!”, after which it’s immediately obvious it’s a cookie-cutter email. Most people prefer getting email messages from real human beings. It gives them a nice feeling.

Someday soon, you might get away with sending AI-generated “personalized” emails, but there could be dangers in doing that as well. AI systems can be very smart one moment and turn totally stupid on a dime.

In any event, personalizing your emails isn’t at all difficult.

There are several ways to go about it:

  • If you’re sending the email from your company address, put your name on it; e.g.,
  • Introduce yourself
  • Write the email in the first person
  • Make it look as if you personally typed it
  • Add “Sent via my iPhone” after your signature. This is very effective, but ethically, you should only add it if you actually did so.
  • Ask the recipient to whitelist your email address. This suggests you’re looking forward to building an ongoing relationship.

A definite no-no:

  • Never send a personalized email from a “Do not reply” email address. This is done more often than you might think.

#2 Write a Subject Line That Begs for a Click

As you go down your list of emails every morning, which ones do you never open? It’s most likely those that, based on the subject line, seem unimportant or irrelevant to your work or everyday concerns.

Here are several approaches you can take to write subject lines that are practically guaranteed to get a click.

If you can fit all 8 ideas into a single, brief subject line, you deserve a big prize; but it’s doubtful anyone has ever successfully done so.

One or two should suffice.

  • Appeal to people’s natural curiosity; “Guess what’s coming your way!”
  • Give a sense of urgency; people have a natural fear of being left out or left behind.
  • Personalize it; Using the first person in the subject line is a good technique; “a special deal just for you” is better than “a special deal for our special friends”.
  • Breaking news; the subject must, however, relate to your business, your product, or the recipient’s perceived interest
  • Use an emoji; an emoji adds personality and gives your subject line a definite human touch
  • Include social proof; e.g., “2,500 customers and a 4.85-star rating”. This example could also serve as breaking news.
  • Try to avoid spam filters. Words like 100%, 50% off, and free can trigger them.
  • Be ultra-specific (and never misleading). Tell the recipient what you’re going to say before you say it.

#3 Show Them the Best Way to Use Your Product

What you’re attempting to accomplish with your email campaign is helping a user get started on a journey, and periodically following up to make sure he or she stays on track. This nurturing process involves, among other things, providing useful product information.

Your messages could elaborate on key features of the product, how others are using it, and the successes others have realized.

  • If the user has just signed up for a free trial, provide clear instructions on how to get started. This is especially important if using the product isn’t intuitive.
  • Send a welcome email within a few hours after signup; some recommend within 2 hours, and never wait more than a day. One reason that sending a welcoming email right away is recommended is that 3 out of 4 users expect to receive one.
  • Follow up with “how’s your free trial going?” emails that also ask if assistance is needed or specific information would be helpful.

It’s all about nurturing – “tell, don’t sell”.

#4 Show Them WHY They Should Use Your Product

For software products, it’s often helpful to educate the users on the topic instead of, or along with, educating them on a product’s features.

Of course, they can download the user manual. And of course, they probably won’t read it – unless it’s exceptionally well presented and written.

Refer your users to free articles, resources, webinars, best practices – whatever is appropriate and interesting.

Periodic (weekly or even daily) emails during the free trial indicate you’re interested in a user’s progress.

No need to be pushy; being helpful is much better.

#5 Send Emails in Response to User Activity

Send an email just after they sign up as previously mentioned; it’s worth repeating.

Send an email if after a few days there’s been no sign of activity. You have to be careful here to avoid being perceived as being pushy.

If it’s a 30-day trial, you may choose to send a message after the first week; maybe earlier if it’s a 15-day trial. The day following sign up? No.

If a SaaS user has been active, becomes inactive for a few days, and then becomes active again; send a “Welcome Back” Message.

Don’t be hesitant about offering your user an extension, especially if they’ve been active. Ask the user what’s been accomplished, what problems if any they’ve encountered, what additional help, if any, they could use.

Important point: These behavior-triggered emails by their very nature tend to be highly personalized and therefore won’t hurt your nurturing efforts one bit.

#6 Provide Users with an Incentive to Quit Their Free Trial Early

We’ve gone over the importance of keeping in touch. When users sign up for free trials and are never heard from again, it’s usually because the business offering the free trial has failed to keep in touch with them. Some who signed up may eventually convert, but the numbers are low.

If you keep in touch by sending a welcome email right away, and another email within the first 3 days, users are 4 times more likely to convert.

And, if a user is taking a genuine liking to your product, you can increase the chances of getting a conversion by providing him or her with an incentive to convert earlier.

That incentive could be a discount, a free consultation on a relevant issue, a special service, a useful app, or something else the user would perceive as having value.

#7 Instead of Relying On a Clear Call to Action at the End, Incorporate One in Every Email You Send

A user who has just signed up for a free trial isn’t necessarily ready to make a purchase. The purpose of incorporating a CTA in each of your emails is to keep the conversation going. As long as you do that, the likelihood of a conversion will grow.

To inspire a user to respond to your call to action, it could:

  • Be a request to call you or otherwise get in touch with you
  • Be a request to respond to a question you ask
  • Ask what they like best about your product so far
  • Suggest trying out a certain feature
  • and so on.

You’re giving the user incentives to continue on with the free trial and, if you’re making an effort to personalize the emails and CTAs, the user begins to feel you’re sincerely interested in how he or she is progressing.

Wrapping It Up

Each of the best practices we’ve discussed offers a potential solution to the problem you’re trying to solve: your free trial isn’t producing the desired or results.

Are you –

  • Personalizing your follow-through emails;
  • Using subject lines that cry out for a click;
  • Providing useful information on how to use your product;
  • Spelling out the benefits of using your product;
  • Sending emails in response to user free trial activities;
  • Offering something of value for ending a free trial early and converting;
  • Including a CTA in every free trial to keep things moving along?

Maybe you’re already doing all of these; but something still isn’t right.

Could it be that you’re –

  • not sending a welcome email within a day or two? 3 out of 4 users expect to receive one almost right away
  • trying to sell rather than tell when composing your emails?
  • starting emails with “Dear Sir or Madam”? That’s a killer
  • not including a call to action in an email?

 Fix these, or any other problem you come across and your onboarding email sequence should quickly start turning more free trials into paying subscriptions.

If you need further assistance, we’re here to help, whether our assistance involves reviewing your free trial campaign to determine where changes may be in order or writing a free trial email plan for you.

Either way, we’ll be delighted to lend a hand.

Just let us know.